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Certain Hebrew prepositions, such as אל, על, and לפני, are always conjugated in the plural form even with a singular object: thus אליו, עליך, etc.

Others don't: the single-letter prepositions (ל and ב), and some of the longer ones (כמו comes to mind) don't follow this pattern, and are conjugated in the expected forms (בו, כמוה, etc.). I would have expected that at least ל should match אל, since it's a shortened version of it.

Why is this so?

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closed as off-topic by Double AA Feb 12 at 6:01

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But they do have separate plural forms! Viz. לפניהם, אליהם. Or are you asking why their singular forms "look like" plural possessive forms (e.g. ספריו: his books vs. ספרו: his book)? Also, don't you mean "singular object" instead of "singular subject"? – Yosef Nov 24 '10 at 19:21
Yes, that's what I'm asking. And thanks for the correction about my subject-vs.-object confusion. – Alex Nov 24 '10 at 21:36
You may find some interesting discussion surrounding the terms "light suffixes" and "heavy suffixes" or "grave suffixes". – Yosef Nov 25 '10 at 2:58
up vote 2 down vote accepted

On further reflection, I guess that part of the answer may be that each of these either is already in plural construct form (לפני) or has such a form in poetic usage (עלי in Gen. 49:17,25, Deut. 32:2, etc.; אלי in Job 3:22 and a couple more places in that book). So אליו, עליך, etc., would be based on those forms.

That still leaves the question, though: why indeed are they so? With לפני I guess it makes sense based on the idea that פנים itself is plural, representing all of the different aspects of the "face" one shows the world; but how would this explain אלי and עלי?

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